Don't Fool Yourself: Sometimes You're (Not) Right

There was something about her I liked—something that said, “This woman is real. She is who she claims to be, nothing more or less. This woman could be a good friend some day.” Of course, I wasn’t interviewing her for an opening as friend-of-Leslie, but for a position as an editor at the newspaper where I worked.

As standoffish as I can be, not intentionally mind you (not usually), I sometimes leap to “friendship” level too soon in a relationship. While not always wise, I have developed a few life-long friendships.

This woman, however, wanted none of me. She avoided me at every turn, and then I became her supervisor. It didn’t begin well not only because she loathed me from jump, but also because I am a—insufferable and now recovering—perfectionist.

“The question is not what you look at, but what you see.”
Henry David Thoreau

In the most thoughtful and humorously honest way anyone has ever spoken to me, she confessed her extreme distaste for me I looked overwhelmingly sad, she explained. (She was right. My grandmother had just died and I was embalming myself in the kind of grief that proves it’s possible to yank someone inside out, to cause the scraping of her organs against every tactile and sentient entity within millimeters of her person. My gallbladder slapped mercilessly against my blazer when I walked.) At the same time, she perceived me as emotionally icy because I wore my hair a horrific bun-like style that revealed my prominent, Sade-like (sans sex appeal) forehead.

Eventually, her loathing of me abated and a profound friendship blossomed. Years later, she’s even claimed to have learned things from me, like diplomacy takes time we don’t have. (I can’t say I’m proud to have taught her that; but in my defense, clocks tick like sonic booms in the news business.)

“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.”
Edgar Allan Poe

Perceptions and first impressions fascinate me. Oftentimes they are spot on; sometimes they are nowhere near reality.

I’ve been described as the cheerleader type (I wanted to play football), as pious (I could teach you a few words), as heartless (it pains me they even think that way) and as highly intelligent (remind me, is it the earth or the sun that rotates?).

“We’re finding that everything is evaluated as good or bad within a quarter of a second,” according to psychologist John Bargh, PhD, in David Myer’s “The Powers and Perils of Intuition.” Myer goes on to say our “micro thin slices” of encounters can tell us something.

The question is this: Is that something accurate? Perceptions were off a bit when it came to these contestants on Britain’s Got Talent:

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.
Richard P. Feynman

I immediately dismissed “Reynaldo” upon meeting him. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was I didn’t like about him—his thin smile and the way he said just the right thing or the way he stood supporting-beam straight. Yet we lived in the same building and I couldn’t help but run into him day after day. Eventually though, I let my guard down when I should have thrown a right hook. He turned out to be the red line at the nuclear plant, dangerous.

A friend of mine, a beautiful mother of six children with a high-powered, kick-butt-no-time-to-take-names job, gives nearly everyone a second, third, fourth… chance and she succeeds at life. Watching her makes you want to love the loud, the lunkheaded, and the lonely just the same. I don’t always succeed, or even have the courage to do so; but when I look to her overwhelming openness, I recall Acts 10:34 (ESV), “So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.’”

There’s a saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” But shouldn’t we give people a chance to make a second impression?

Should I have given Reynaldo a second chance? Why not? Validation can be good for the spirit. It was the third and fourth chances that gave me problems.

The key is to live… smartly and with God.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths (Proverbs 3:3 KJV).

More to consider:

The Powers and Perils of Intuition:

5 Early Warning Signs You’re with a Narcissist:

Safe people: